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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHeart Of The Sunset - Chapter 23. The Crash
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Heart Of The Sunset - Chapter 23. The Crash Post by :Jasonphox Category :Long Stories Author :Rex Beach Date :May 2012 Read :1913

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Heart Of The Sunset - Chapter 23. The Crash


The several days following Dave's unexpected call at Las Palmas Alaire spent in a delightful reverie. She had so often wrestled with the question of divorce that she had begun to weary of it; and now, when she tried to summon energy to consider it anew, she found herself, as usual, reasoning in a circle and arriving at no decision. She gave up trying, at length, and for the time being rested content in the knowledge that she loved and was loved. In her heart she knew well enough what her ultimate course would be: sooner or later events would force her action. Yielding to a natural cowardice, therefore, she resigned herself to dreamy meditations and left the future to take care of itself. A week passed while she hugged her thoughts to her breast, and then one evening she rode home to learn that Ed had returned from San Antonio.

But Ed was ill, and he did not appear at dinner. It had been years since either had dared invade the other's privacy, and now, inasmuch as her husband did not send for her, Alaire did not presume to offer her services as nurse. As a matter of fact, she considered this quite unnecessary, for she felt sure that he was either suffering the customary after-effects of a visit to the city or else that he lacked the moral courage to undertake an explanation of his hurried flight from the ranch. In either event she was glad he kept to his room.

Heretofore their formal relations had made life at least tolerable to Alaire, but now she experienced a feeling of guilt at finding herself under the same roof with him. Oddly enough, it seemed to her that in this she wronged Dave and not her husband; for she reasoned that, having given her love to one man, her presence in the same house with another outraged that love.

When Austin made his appearance, on the day following his return, his bleared eyes, his puffy, pasty cheeks, his shattered nerves, showed plainly enough how he had spent his time. Although he was jumpy and irritable, he seemed determined by an assumption of high spirits and exaggerated friendliness to avert criticism. Since Alaire spared him all reproaches, his efforts seemed to meet with admirable success. Now Ed's opinion of women was not high, for those with whom he habitually associated were of small intelligence; and, seeing that his wife continued to manifest a complete indifference to his past actions, he decided that his apprehensions had been groundless. If Alaire remembered the Guzman affair at all, or if she had suspected him of complicity in it, time had evidently dulled her suspicions, and he was a little sorry he had taken pains to stay away so long.

Before many days, however, he discovered that this indifference of hers was not assumed, and that in some way or other she had changed. Ed was accustomed, when he returned exhausted from a debauch, to seeing in his wife's eyes a strained misery; he had learned to expect in her bearing a sort of pitying, hopeless resignation. But this time she was not in the least depressed. On the contrary, she appeared happier, fresher, and younger than he had seen her for a long time. It was mystifying. When, one morning, he overheard her singing in her room, he was shocked. Over this phenomenon he meditated with growing amazement and a faint stir of resentment in his breast, for he lived a self- centered life, considering himself the pivot upon which revolved all the affairs of his little world. To feel that he had lost even the power to make his wife unhappy argued that he had overestimated his importance.

At length, having sufficiently recovered his health to begin drinking again, he yielded one evening to an alcoholic impulse and, just as Alaire bade him good night, clumsily sought to force an explanation.

"See here!" he shot at her. "What's the matter with you lately?" He saw that he had startled her and that she made an effort to collect her wandering thoughts. "You're about as warm and wifely as a stone idol."

"Am I any different to what I have always been?"

"Humph! You haven't been exactly sympathetic of late. Here I come home sick, and you treat me like one of the help. Don't you think I have feelings? Jove! I'm lonesome."

Alaire regarded him speculatively, then shook her head as if in answer to some thought.

In an obvious and somewhat too mellow effort to be friendly, Ed continued: "Don't let's go on like this, Alaire. You blame me for going away so much, but, good Lord! when I'm home I feel like an interloper. You treat me like a cow-thief."

"I'm sorry. I've tried to be everything I should. I'm the interloper."

"Nonsense! If we only got along together as well as we seem to from the outside it wouldn't be bad at all. But you're too severe. You seem to think a man should be perfect. Well, none of us are, and I'm no worse than the majority. Why, I know lots of fellows who forget themselves and do things they shouldn't, but they don't mean anything by it. They have wives and homes to go to when it's all over. But have I? You're as glad to see me as if I had smallpox. Maybe we've made a mess of things, but married life isn't what young girls think it is, A wife must learn to give and take."

"I've given. What have I taken?" she asked him in a voice that quivered.

Ed made an impatient gesture. "Oh, don't be so literal! I mean that, since we're man and wife, it's up to you to be a little more--broad-gauge in your views."

"In other words, you want me to ignore your conduct. Is that it? I'm afraid we can't argue that, Ed."

Within the last few days Austin's mind had registered a number of new impressions, and at this moment he realized that his wife was undoubtedly the most attractive woman physically he had ever known. Of course she was cold, but she had not always been so. He had chilled her; he had seen the fire die year by year, but now the memory of her as she had once been swept over him, bringing a renewed appreciation of her charms. His recent dissipation had told upon him as heavily as a siege of sickness, and this evening he was in that fatuous, sentimental mood which comes with convalescence, Having no fault to find with himself, and feeling merely a selfish desire to make more pleasant his life at Las Palmas, he undertook to bend Alaire to his will.

"All right; don't let's try to argue it," he laughed, with what he considered an admirable show of magnanimity. "I hate arguments, anyhow; I'd much rather have a goodnight kiss."

But when he stooped over her Alaire held him off and turned her head. "No!" she said.

"You haven't kissed me for--"

"I don't wish to kiss you."

"Don't be silly," he insisted. This suggestion of physical resistance excited his love of conquest and awoke something like the mood of a lover--such a lover as a man like Ed could be. For a moment he felt as if Alaire were some other woman than his wife, a woman who refused and yet half expected to be overcome; therefore he laughed self-consciously and repeated, "Come now, I want a kiss."

Alaire thrust him back strongly, and he saw that her face had whitened. Oddly enough, her stubbornness angered him out of all reason, and he began a harsh remonstrance. But he halted when she cried:

"Wait! I must tell you something, Ed. It's all over, and has been for a long time. We're going to end it."

"End it?"

"We can't go on living together. Why should we?"

"So? Divorce? Is that it?"

Alaire nodded.

"Well, I'll be damned!" Ed was dumfounded. "Isn't this rather sudden?" he managed to inquire.

"Oh no. You've suggested it more than once."

"I thought you didn't believe in divorces--couldn't stomach 'em? What's happened?"

"I have changed my mind."

"Humph! People don't change their minds in a minute," he cried, angrily. "Is there some other man?"

Now Ed Austin had no faintest idea that his wife would answer in the affirmative, for he had long ago learned to put implicit confidence in her, and her life had been so open that he could not imagine that it held a double interest. Therefore her reply struck him speechless.

"Yes, Ed," she said, quietly, "there is another man."

It was like her not to evade. She had never lied to him.

Ed's mouth opened; his reddened eyes protruded. "Well--" he stammered. "Well, by God!" Then after a moment: "Who is it, the Greaser or the cowboy?" He laughed loudly, disagreeably. "It must be one or the other, for you haven't seen any men except them. Another man! Well, you're cool about it."

"I am glad you know the truth."

Muttering to himself, Ed made a short excursion around the room, then paused before his wife with a sneer on his lips. "Did it ever occur to you that I might object?" he demanded.

Alaire eyed him scornfully. "What right have you to object?"

Ed could not restrain a malevolent gleam of curiosity. "Say, who is it? Ain't I entitled to know that much?" As Alaire remained silent he let his eyes rove over her with a kind of angry appreciation. "You're pretty enough to stampede any man," he admitted. "Yes, and you've got money, too. I'll bet it's the Ranger. So, you've been having your fling while I was away. Hunh! We're tarred with the same stick."

"You don't really believe that," she told him, sharply.

"Why not? You've had enough opportunity. I don't see anything of you, and haven't for years. Well, I was a fool to trust you."

Alaire's eyes were very dark and very bright as she said: "I wonder how I have managed to live with you as long as I have. I knew you were weak, nasty--so I was prepared for something like this. But I never thought you were a downright criminal until--"

"Criminal? Rot!"

"How about that Guzman affair? You can't go much lower, Ed, and you can't keep me here with you."

"I can't keep you, eh?" he growled. "Well, perhaps not. I suppose you've got enough on me to secure a divorce, but I can air some of your dirty linen. Oh, don't look like that! I mean it! Didn't you spend a night with David Law?" He leered at her unpleasantly, then followed a step as she drew back.

"Don't you touch me!" she cried.

A flush was deepening Ed's purple cheeks; his voice was peculiarly brutal and throaty as he said: "The decree isn't entered yet, and so long as you are Mrs. Austin I have rights. Yes, and I intend to exercise them. You've made me jealous, and, by God--" He made to encircle her with his arms and was half successful, but when Alaire felt the heat of his breath in her face a sick loathing sprang up within her, and, setting her back against the wall, she sent him reeling. Whether she struck him or merely pushed him away she never knew, for during the instant of their struggle she was blind with indignation and fury. Profiting by her advantage, she dodged past him, fled to her room, and locked herself in.

She heard him muttering profanely; heard him approach her chamber more than once, then retire uncertainly, but she knew him too well to be afraid.

Later that night she wrote two letters--one to Judge Ellsworth, the other to Dave Law.

Jose Sanchez rode to the Morales house feeling some concern over the summons that took him thither. He wondered what could have induced General Longorio to forsake his many important duties in order to make the long trip from Nuevo Pueblo; surely it could be due to no lack of zeal on his, Jose's, part. No! The horse-breaker flattered himself that he had made a very good spy indeed; that he had been Longorio's eyes and ears so far as circumstances permitted. Nor did he feel that he had been lax in making his reports, for through Rosa he had written the general several lengthy letters, and just for good measure these two had conjured up sundry imaginary happenings to prove beyond doubt that Senora Austin was miserably unhappy with her husband and ready to welcome such a dashing lover as Longorio. Therefore Jose could not for the life of him imagine wherein he had been remiss. Nevertheless, he was uneasy, and he hoped that nothing had occurred to anger his general.

But Longorio, when he arrived at the meeting-place, was not in a bad humor. Having sent Rosa away on some errand, he turned to Jose with a flashing smile, and said:

"Well, my good friend, the time has come."

Now Jose had no faintest idea what the general was talking about, but to be called the good friend of so illustrious a person was flattering. He nodded decisively.

"Yes, beyond doubt," he agreed.

"Mexico is in a bad way. These rebels are growing by the thousands; they overrun the country like ants. You read the papers, eh?"

"Sometimes; when there are enough pictures," said Jose.

"Ha! Then I doubt if you know what is happening. Well, I'll have to tell you. Our enemies have taken all northern Mexico except that part which is under my control; but they are pushing toward me from two sides, and I prepare to retreat. That is not the worst, however; the Gringos are hoping to profit by Mexico's distress; they are making ready to invade our Fatherland, and every Mexican must fight or become a slave."

This was indeed news! Jose began patriotically cursing the whole American people.

"Understand, I make you my confidant because I think a great deal of you, Jose." The general laid an affectionate hand upon Jose's shoulder. "The first time I saw you I said: 'There's a boy after my own heart. I shall learn to love that Jose, and I shall put him in the way of his fortune.' Well, I have not changed my mind, and the time is come. You are going to help me and I am going to help you."

Jose Sanchez thrilled with elation from head to foot. This promised to be the greatest day of his life, and he felt that he must be dreaming.

"You haven't tired of Rosa, eh? You still wish to marry her?" Longorio was inquiring.

"Yes. But, of course, I'm a poor man."

"Just so. I shall attend to that. Now we come to the object of my visit. Jose, I propose to make you rich enough in one day so that you can marry."

"But first, wait!" exclaimed the horse-breaker. "I bring you something of value, too." Desiring to render favor for favor, and to show that he was fully deserving of the general's generosity, Jose removed from inside the sweatband of his hat a sealed, stamped letter, which he handed to his employer. "Yesterday I carried the mail to town, but as I rode away from Las Palmas the senora handed me this, with a silver dollar for myself. Look! It is written to the man we both hate."

Longorio took the letter, read the inscription, and then opened the envelope. Jose looked on with pleasure while he spelled out the contents.

When the general had finished reading, he exclaimed: "Ho! A miracle! Now I know all that I wish to know."

"Then I did well to steal that letter, eh?"

"Diablo! Yes! That brute of a husband makes my angel's life unbearable, and she flees to La Feria to be rid of him. Good! It fits in with my plans. She will be surprised to see me there. Then, when the war comes and all is chaos then what? I'll warrant I can make her forget certain things and certain people." Longorio nodded with satisfaction. "You did very well, Jose."

The latter leaned forward, his eyes bright. "That lady is rich. A fine prize, truly. She would bring a huge ransom."

This remark brought a smile to Longorio's face. "My dear friend, you do not in the least understand," he said. "Ransom! What an idea!" He lost himself in meditation, then, rousing, spoke briskly: "Listen! In two, three days, your senora will leave Las Palmas. When she is gone you will perform your work, like the brave man I know you to be. You will relieve her of her husband."

Jose hesitated, and the smile vanished from his face. "Senor Ed is not a bad man. He likes me; he--" Longorio's gaze altered and Jose fell silent.

"Come! You are not losing heart, eh? Have I not promised to make you a rich man? Well, the time has arrived." Seeing that Jose still manifested no eagerness, the general went on in a different tone: "Do not think that you can withdraw from our little arrangement. Oh no! Do you remember a promise I made to you when you came to me in Romero? I said that if you played me false I would bury you to the neck in an anthill and fill your mouth with honey. I keep my promises."

Jose's struggle was brief; he promptly resigned himself to the inevitable. With every evidence of sincerity he assured Longorio of his loyalty, and denied the least intention of betraying his general's confidence. What, after all, was his mission upon earth if not to serve Longorio's interests? One might have a peaceful heart and still be a man. Jose was every inch a man; he was a very devil when he let himself go, and his Excellency need have no fears as to the outcome of their plan. After all, the GRINGOS were enemies, and there was no one of them who did not merit destruction.

Pleased with these sentiments, and feeling sufficiently assured that Jose was now really in the proper frame of mind to suit his purpose, Longorio took the winding trail back toward Sangre de Cristo.

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